Before I come to the main content of this article I should spend some words on the background to all this. When I decided to do a trip to Thailand, I really was not sure where to go and what to do. To get some inspiration I went to a travel agency and browsed through their tours. Of course there were a lot of tours with lots of sightseeing and traveling in Thailand and the neighboring countries. However, one trip caught my attention and I finally booked that one.
The trip I booked goes for four weeks and during that time I travel from Bangkok to Thailand’s north (you already know that) to spend three weeks at a NGO called The Mirror Foundation to do volunteering work. This organization works with hill tribes in the north of Thailand and helps them in various aspects, including English teaching and infrastructure projects. When applying as a volunteer you can choose between an Indoor and an Outdoor option. The first option includes teaching sessions at various schools and institutions in the area of Chiang Rai, while the second option—as the name suggests—is all about outdoor projects like bridge building, painting or rice planting. I decided for the outdoor option because I thought I spend enough time in classrooms already.
Now I hear some of you asking: “Why would you go to Thailand just to do work there?” Of course I could have taken a tour where I travel around the whole country to see everything Thailand has to offer when it comes to temples, nature and islands. What I probably would have missed on such a tour, however, is a deeper insight in Thailand’s culture and their people. Also all the volunteering work is done in groups so I could expect to meet like-minded people from all over the world. And to give you a small teaser: That is exactly what happened.
After a first orientation meeting at the Mirror Foundation that is located near Chiang Rai, the group of newly arrived outdoor volunteers, in total 18 people (correct me if I am wrong on this), was separated into two groups. My group was assigned to a project at a near hilltribe village to complete a bridge that a previous volunteering team already had started but could not finished because it rained quite much. The village is called Ban Jalae. In it, 85 families both of the Akha and the Lahu tribes are resided. The village is located at a small river separating it from fields that provides food for the village. While the river can easily be crossed by foot during the dry season, the water level rises that much during the rainy season that previous bridges already got washed away. To avoid that with in future, the bridge we were supposed to build was made with lots of concrete.
We worked on the bridge for two days. Unfortunately, it continued to rain a lot so that we had to take a brake a couple of times. The remaining time we were busy carrying buckets of sand and rocks, mixing concrete and collecting rocks. Although the work was quite hard, it was quite fun as all people, both the volunteers and the people from he village, harmonized very well. In the group we had five Americans, a couple from England, a French, a Chinese and me, the only German around which gave me the opportunity to practice my English skills. I am still working on this one, but I think it got a bit better already.
The food was basic but very good with rice three times a day and lots of eggs. It was prepared just in the next house by the wife of one of the Mirror Foundation’s members who visited us regularly to see how the progress on the bridge was. Our accommodation was pretty basic, too, with all of us sleeping in one bamboo hut. In our free time we all enjoyed watching chickens, pigs and dogs running around the whole place, fighting or looking for food. To get a refreshment from all the sweat and hard work we made an excursion to the next waterfall where some even took a swim. During night it was pretty quiet until all the roosters started to wake up everybody while it was still dark outside. I wondered what was wrong with them as they normally do not start until sunrise. Then again, I could put my newly purchased earplugs into good use.
After the two days we did not achieve to finish the whole bridge, but we finished the top level of the bridge so that only the two ramps were still missing. On the cloudy and rainy morning of the third day we said goodbye to the village and got onto the car to meet up with the other team. What they have been up to I will tell you in one of the next articles.
A small side notice at the end of this long article: Please excuse if I do not respond to all of your emails. Right now, my days are quite busy so I spend the time at the laptop keeping this blog up-to-date. However, I appreciate your mails and I follow them with great interest. In a few days we all get four days off from our volunteering work, so I might have more time by then.